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Tales From Hoffnung /
Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore

voice cast: the D'Oyle Carte Opera Company, Peter Sellars

directors: John Halas, Tony Guy

104 minutes (E) 1964
Blue Dolphin DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Husband and wife team, John Halas and Joy Bachelor, neither of them with us today, are legends in the field of animation. Multiple award winners, best known for their feature film adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm in 1954, the couple had great ability but rarely the money to exhibit it. Blue Dolphin bring us two great chunks of Halas and Bachelor on one disc, the longer of the two, a commissioned animation to a recording of the D'Oyle Carte Opera Company's performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, Or The Witches Curse. G&S' tenth opera was chosen for the treatment over more popular operas in the duo's oeuvre because it was felt that the fans might take less badly to a modern assault on a lesser work than on the precious likes of The Mikado and HMS Pinafore. The BBC provided Halas and Bachelor with a budget intended to cater an hour. The original opera was twice that length and a lot of chopping was necessary. The budget did not lend itself to the luxury of the most elaborate animation, resulting in a work with the barest of backgrounds, completed with cheat techniques like loops, block character design with shared movement, talking heads, pans across static landscapes, and even flashbacks to replay work done. Ruddigore is a lame opera, the lyricist taking more pleasure in it than the composer, though I am here going by the songs and music that were decided into the final film. All in all, it makes for an insufferable viewing and listening experience.

A 400-year old witch's curse compels the successive heads of the Murgatroyd family to commit a crime every day of his respective tenure or die a painful and horrible death. The oldest brother has faked his death and remains in the locale under the guise of Robin Oakapple. He falls for the dipsy maiden, Rose Maybud, but is a shy type seeking the help of his returning seafarer foster brother, Richard, to secure for him her hand in marriage. But Richard becomes besotted himself and reveals Robin's great secret making of him an unlucky suitor. Robin is installed in Ruddigore Castle, freeing his younger brother Despard, to pursue a love of his own, the mad Margaret. The ghosts of the accursed ancestors leave the portraits to impress upon him the need to try harder in his wrongdoing as his crimes are not worthy of the curse, if crimes at all, and it would surely lead to his imminent doom. A resolve is found and the curse is lifted freeing everyone to a happy ending.

The first half of the story takes place in the bay town of Redherring where the animation is an A-Z of compromise and the colouring pale. When the tale goes to the castle the colours deepen more impressively, the ghosts of the ancestors floating across a night sky, russets against a rich blue. When Robin transforms for his occupancy of the castle his suit and hair take on a similar strong hues of blue and lime green. The colour is commendably reproduced but if this was the work of restoration then nonsensical decisions followed. The ratio is 1.33:1 and indisputably imagery is lost either side of the frame. The film is continually referenced as running at 55 minutes but the total running time is 49 minutes and 8 seconds. So is it incomplete? Is a song number amiss? Should there be titles, for there is a shortage of credits on the film? There are blunders in the work. Robin addresses is ghost uncle as a "gaunt vision" whereas the animators make the character stolid. Halas is spoken of little in the accompanying material, a 14-minute film hosted by Professor Paul Wells of Loughborough University. It runs into a filmed meeting and chat between Vivian Halas, the couple's daughter, and one of the animators on Ruddigore, Tony Guy. They have at hand borrowed layouts and cels from the collection of Harold Whittaker, senior animator on the same film. Tony Guy cites Tom Dwighthouse as the third prominent member of the animating team and mentions three more, though not by name, as contributing more routinely to the film. As always it was a small team on the Halas and Bachelor production. Bachelor is spoken of as the pre-production lead, making all of the important decisions and designing the film. The interview broaches the term "limited animation" used to describe the film, and it clearly brings bad memories for both, insulting reviews the day after its screening in 1964. They unconvincingly compare the film to Disney's Cinderella, on the terms of it too being minimalist, and gladly take on board suggestions that the characters resemble the creations of Ralph Searle. They are defending the names of others, deep down they know that the film is dull, and the work insufficient and unsuccessful. They conversers also discuss rotoscoping to such an extent that the average viewer would assume that rotoscoping took place, though discussion comes as a result of Guy actually talking about how it is not rotoscoped. The performers were filmed for the movements and they were copied but not copied over, as is clear from the end animation. A trailer goes behind the scenes with Halas and Batchelor and there is a photo gallery.
Individual rating: 2

Tales Of Hoffnung was another BBC commission based on the books of "graphic artist and musical clown" Gerard Hoffnung. Halas hired Francis Chagrin to provide the music for the animations, a technique of chopping up the musical classics to comic effect. In an example of the playfulness one trio of musicians plied with rum by pirates play and the sounds are warped by the influence. The animated adventures are more imaginative and humorous but still fail to win me over. The odd film out in the seven shorts is "Birds, Bees and Storks," six minutes that baulk the series trend and hold to a monologue, delivered by Peter Sellars, as a father trying to bring himself to discuss the subject of where babies come from with his son. We take the place of the unseen boy, the cartoon talking into the camera. In the accompanying material Tony Guy relates how he was privileged to complete the film single-handed. His work drew on an original Hoffnung cartoon. He designed and added nothing new but the movement. It is appealing in its simplicity. The technical duties were exchanged from film to film in the series, but the surrealism is kept. The praise lavished makes one want to fight back and argue, the oft spoken of quality hard to divine. More is demanded, particularly from the modern viewer.
Individual rating: 4


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